Levinas’s Ethics in the Feminine: How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria?
In this essay, I consider the temporal differences between Emmanuel Levinas’s terms ‘the feminine’ and ‘the maternal’. I wonder about the possible role these two terms might play in understanding feminine ethical singularity and transcendence. My investigation takes place by way of a discussion of Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) and Roger and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music (1965). Through these films, I find that Levinas’s version of the maternal betrays the overall structure of his ethics because it relies too much on the paternal, a reliance that Levinas fails to consider. The feminine, by contrast, does not rely on another term in the same way, particularly when it comes to the context of temporality. Thus, for me, the feminine — although it has been rightly criticized by many — offers a way of understanding the complexity of feminine ethical singularity that the maternal does not.